Workers Struggles: Asia, Australia and the Pacific

28 April 2012
Asia

More join South Korean public broadcasters’ strike

Nearly 2,000 members of the KBS Union-1 have voted to strike on May 1 in solidarity with striking journalists at public broadcasters KBS, MBC, YTN and Yanhop news agency who are protesting alleged political bias by management.

Around 500 employees at MBC walked out on January 30 and have refused to return to work until MBC president Kim Jae-chul steps down. Journalists from the other broadcasters joined the strike a few weeks later demanding reinstatement of sacked MBC journalists and the resignation of their CEOs who they claim are political appointees of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. At least ten journalists have been sacked at MBC and YTN for criticising the government.

KBS Union-1, with 2,900 members, has demanded the reform of the CEO appointment system to include nominations from the National Assembly and local governors, not just nominations from the president. News and current affairs productions have been severely affected.

India: Tamil Nadu coal and power generating workers on strike

Following failed talks on April 19, about 13,000 contract workers at the state-owned coal and power generating company Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) walked out on April 21 to demand equal pay for equal work on par with regular workers and regularisation of services. Industrial action began on April 15 when 400 workers were arrested while picketing an NLC power station.

According to the All India Trade Union Congress, the NLC had failed to honour a 2008 agreement to regularise its contract workforce. Over 6,000 have been on a contract basis for 15 years. The NLC has three open cut coal mines and three power stations. It employs 14,000 regular workers and 13,000 contract workers.

As it did during the 39-day strike by contract workers in October 2010 over the same demands, the union has not called on regular workers to join the walkout. Contract workers were forced to accept an agreement that left them permanently on low wages while the issue of regularisation and entitlements were not resolved. Contract workers—miners, labourers and other ancillary workers—are paid a total sum of between 4,500 rupees ($US91) and 6,000 rupees ($121) per month.

Tamil Nadu sugar workers remain on strike

On April 24, striking workers of 16 cooperative and public sector sugar mills in Tamil Nadu demonstrated in Chennai following the failure of talks between the Tamil Nadu Federation of All Trade Unions of Sugar Mills Workers and Employees and the government over a wage dispute.

Around 6,000 mill workers in Thanjavur, Salem, Coimbatore, Tirutani and Karaikudi began strike action on April 4 to demand a pay rise and dearness allowance on par with government employees. The government has offered a 10 percent pay increase, far short of the 41 percent needed to resolve the issue.

Tamil Nadu nurses’ strike in third week

Over 450 nurses at Tamil Nadu’s largest medical teaching facility, PSG Hospital in Coimbatore, have been on strike since April 7 to demand improved wages and allowances. According to the PSG Nurses Welfare Union talks on April 20 failed because management “totally rejected” the nurses’ demands and insisted that nurses return to work before further talks are held.

Demands include a minimum monthly salary of 15,000 rupees ($US287) for BSc degree holders and 10,000 rupees for a diploma, an annual increment of 1,000 rupees, deletion of the clause relating to payment of three months’ salary at the time of resignation, removal of the contract system of employment, return of original certificates, and the introduction of a shift system. In addition, nurses want all entitlements currently prescribed by the Nursing Council of India.

Kingfisher Airlines engineers strike

About 200 engineers at Kingfisher Airlines struck work on April 21 over the non-payment of wages for two months. A strike planned for the beginning of April by all Kingfisher staff over the issue was called off after management promised all dues would be paid by April 10. Management claimed a “technical error” led to the engineers not being paid.

Kingfisher has a total debt of about 70 billion rupees ($US1.4 billion) and accumulated losses of about 60 billion rupees. According to a media report the Service Tax department has frozen 40 of the airline’s bank accounts. The airline has drastically cut flights and its workforce to reduce losses.

Press Trust of India employees strike

Employees of India’s largest news agency Press Trust of India (PTI) held a national 30-hour strike on April 20 to demand the government approve the Mumbai High Court wage board revision for newspaper and news agency employees. The Labour and Employment Ministry on November 11 announced the findings of the wages board but implementation has been delayed until the Supreme Court hears appeals from employers opposing the increases.

The wage boards were constituted in May 2007 and gave their reports to the central government on December 31, 2010. The board for newspaper and news agency workers recommended lifting some salaries by 200 percent, drawing strong opposition from employers.

Pakistan Supreme Court ordered health workers to end strike

On April 24, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered employees of the Lady Health Workers (LHW) to end their strike and protest outside the Lahore Press Club. LHW workers, including drivers, administrators and women who assist in rural areas with child birth and family management, had demanded payment of two months’ dues, job regularisation, wage increases and other benefits for more than 130,000 workers. They were joined by National Programme for Family Planning and Primary Health Care employees.

The Supreme Court bench has ordered government authorities to explain by May 10 what it has done to resolve the issue.

In 2010, the workers ended a strike after the Supreme Court made a similar promise to address the health workers’ issues. The government at the time increased their minimum wage to 7,000 rupees ($US77). However, workers complained of extended delays in receiving this meagre salary.

As one worker told the media, “The LHWs have been protesting for over four years, have not received salaries for months and suffered through every misery—now enough is enough,” she said.

Pakistan tourism industry workers walk out

Over 650 workers of the state-run Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) have been protesting outside the Rawalpindi Press Club since April 21 to demand immediate payment of six months of unpaid salaries. The action followed five days of protests and a one-day strike on April 20.

According to the PTDC Employees Union, the workers, who only receive about 10,000 rupees ($110) per month, planned a hunger strike on April 26 if their demand is not met.

Cambodian garment workers on strike

Over 700 employees of the SH garment factory in the Choam Chao commune, Phnom Penh have been on strike since April 19 to demand better working conditions. Workers have formed a picket at the factory and vowed not to return until their nine demands are met. The company has refused to negotiate, claiming the demands are above the official minimum.

A Free Trade Union official said the strikers want a $US10 a month transport allowance, $10 rent assistance, a food allowance for overtime work, and a basic salary of $70 a month. The official monthly minimum wage for Cambodian garment workers has not been revised since it was set at $61 in July 2010. The SH workers have also demanded the sacking of two administration officers and two sewing-line leaders.

Indonesian garment workers demand pay rise

Thousands of PT Starnesia Garment workers in Tangerang, on the outskirts of Jakarta, walked off the job on April 20 to demand a 200,000 rupiah pay rise to lift their monthly salary to 1,529,000 rupiahs ($US170). Strikers complained that after a “meaningless” pay increase of 30,000 rupiahs this year they were forced to put together 40 items of clothing every 30 minutes, instead of the usual 28. “It [the increase] might as well have never happened,” one worker said. Workers vowed to remain on strike until their demand was met.

Australia and the Pacific

Victorian mental health workers stop work

Psychiatric nurses and mental health clinicians walked off the job in a series of stop-work protests across the Goulburn Murray region in Northern Victoria over the weekend in a dispute with the state government for better wages and conditions in a new work agreement. Health and Community Services Union (HCSU) members stopped work at Shepparton, Beechworth, Wangaratta and Wodonga.

Victorian mental health workers have been holding two-hour rolling stoppages since April 10 over the issue. The HCSU said the strikes would continue for 23 days and include over 100 stoppages.

The walkouts follow months of failed negotiations since the current enterprise bargaining agreement expired on November 1. On top of an 18 percent pay rise over three years, the union wants more staff for night shifts and high-dependency units, and better training. The government has offered annual 2.5 percent increases over three years. Victoria’s consumer price index for the last quarter of 2011 was 3.1 percent.

Auto parts workers locked out

About 80 workers at car parts manufacturer CMI Industrial in Campbellfield, Melbourne have been locked out and all production brought to a halt since April 20 after the company fell behind in rent payments. Some CMI Industrial employees have been working a four-day week for the past three years.

CMI, which has now been placed in administration, produces parts for Ford. The lockout has led to the stand-down of 1,800 workers on half pay at Ford’s Broadmeadows and Geelong plants.

CMI, employs 446 people at five facilities across Australia. The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), which covers auto parts workers and has rubber-stamped all the company’s previous attacks on working conditions, has told employees to keep turning up at the factory gate.

New South Wales rail maintenance workers strike

Maintenance workers at Downer EDI Rail’s Kooragang Island site in Newcastle began a campaign of rolling stoppages on April 20 as part of on-going industrial action over stalled enterprise agreement negotiations. The action followed several weeks of overtime bans.

The AMWU, whose members maintain Pacific National’s Hunter region coal train fleet, has been negotiating since November for an 8 percent pay rise to bring wages at the Downer EDI’s Kooragang site in line with those at the company’s five other New South Wales sites.

Victorian power workers vote to strike

Members of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) at Loy Yang, the Latrobe Valley’s biggest power generator, in Victoria’s south-east have voted to take industrial action in a dispute for shorter working hours. Workers want a 35-hour week to bring them in line with the industry standard. A spokesperson for the CFMEU said that workers were prepared to begin protected industrial action from May 2. The dispute is currently being heard in Australia’s industrial tribunal Fair Work Australia.

Loy Yang is a base-load supply station and produces about one third of the state’s electricity requirements. It is owned by a consortium made up of AGL Limited, Tokyo Electric Power, Transfield Services and three superannuation funds.

Canberra university staff and students protest

Hundreds of staff and students at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra rallied against planned budget cuts on April 26. The ANU announced last month it needs to find $40 million in budget savings, and plans to cut $25 million in staff expenses, and save $15 million by improving the university's business practices. Staff fear that up to 150 jobs will be lost as a result of the cuts.

Similar budget and staffing cuts are being carried out at universities across Australia as part of the Gillard government’s austerity program to slash over $40 billion from the federal budget in twelve months. Spending per student has been slashed with the aim of transforming universities into profit-driven corporate concerns.

Redundancies are being implemented at universities across Australia, including at the University of NSW and the University of Queensland. Sydney’s Macquarie University has announced further departmental cuts, following last year’s 70 redundancies. In 2010, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) agreed to 300 redundancies at Monash University in Melbourne, currently Australia’s largest university.

New Zealand meat workers maintain strike action

Around 500 workers at meat processing plants of Affco on New Zealand’s North Island have extended their strike action into a third week in a dispute for a new collective agreement. Meat Workers Union (MWU) members have been on strike since April 13 in support of nearly 1,000 colleagues who have been locked out of five of Affco’s eight plants since February 29. The union called for the extension of the strike after the Employment Court postponed a scheduled hearing into the legality of the lockout.

Workers are opposed to Affco’s proposed “flexible hiring” and productivity speed-ups in the new agreement. The company aims to smash up longstanding work practices and alter manning levels and tally rates on a shift-by-shift basis. Workers are covered by a core collective contract, with site agreements determining additional terms and conditions. The union and Affco’s owner Talleys entered into “confidential” negotiations in front of an Employment Court judge on Friday.

The MWU, which claims to cover 23,000 permanent and seasonal workers at 75 sites in the New Zealand meat industry has not called out any of its members at other work sites in support of the Affco workers. Instead it has isolated the Affco workers and is dragging out the dispute as it did in a similar dispute last year in which over 100 meat workers at CMP Rangitikei accepted cuts to pay and conditions negotiated by MWU and the Council of Trade Unions to end a 65-day lockout.